Hellam Township v. Hellam Township Zoning Hearing Board, (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2008).

A developer’s plan that was submitted in 2001 was substantially similar to a 1996 plan; therefore, the 1996 ordinances governed review of the plan.
Case Details:

Developer’s 1996 Plan proposing residential and agricultural development was rejected because of a Township Ordinance imposing a moratorium on new residential land development.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court later invalidated the Township’s moratorium.  Developer then submitted a plan in 2001 accompanied by a letter which provided that the 2001 Plan was identical to the 1996 Plan.  The Township reviewed the 2001 Plan under the Ordinances that were in effect in 1996.

In 2005, the Zoning Officer stated that the 1996 Ordinances were not applicable and instead the 2001 Plan should be reviewed in accordance with the Ordinances in effect in 2001.  An appeal to the Zoning Hearing Board (“ZHB”) followed, and the ZHB determined that the 2001 Plan was the same or substantially similar to the 1996 Plan and that the 1996 Ordinances were applicable.

The Township appealed to the Commonwealth Court arguing that the Board capriciously disregarded evidence which showed that the 2001 Plan was not the same as the 1996 Plan.  The Commonwealth Court found that the Board did not capriciously disregard any evidence and there was evidence to support its findings. The Township also argued that it was misled by the letter accompanying the 2001 Plan that stated that it was identical to the 1996 Plan and that the two were not identical.  The Court found that the Township was not misled and the Township had available for its review the various applications.  Therefore, the Court determined that the 1996 Ordinances were applicable.

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